At the age of 36, Leo Messi cannot easily be described as a player in his prime. However, he is less than a year out from having inspired his native Argentina to their first World Cup win in his lifetime, and so his transfer to Inter Miami was one which caught the attention. It was big news overall for soccer fans, but all the more so for those who watch the MLS. For the first time ever, a player with a legitimate claim to be the world’s best is plying his trade Stateside.
One result of all of this is a vastly increased interest in watching MLS games. It’s not like the league was deprived of star power before he arrived, with international players from around the world plying their trade at American and Canadian clubs both now and in the recent past. This is a league that has played host to David Beckham, Andrea Pirlo, Thierry Henry and Steven Gerrard among others. It presently hosts Javier Hernandez, Xherdan Shaqiri and Lorenzo Insigne. But with the addition of Messi, its pulling power has multiplied, and nowhere is this better seen than in the cost of tickets for league games.
Within living memory, it hasn’t always been easy to be a US-based soccer fan. Between 1984 and 1996, there wasn’t a professional league in this country – which, let’s bear in mind, had a population of more than 200million, many of whom were first- or second-generation immigrants from countries in which the sport is close to a religion. You don’t even have to be all that old to remember a time in which soccer and the US simply didn’t go together. So if you are one of those fans, the sight of Leo Messi playing for an MLS club is something like a miracle. And it’s an experience for which people are prepared to pay top dollar.
Let’s take a direct comparison between 2022, when Messi was still playing for PSG in Ligue 1, and 2023 once he signed for Inter. Although primary sales at the Inter Miami ticket office have remained largely stable, it’s in the secondary market that we see the real difference. To take one match as an example, let’s look at cosmopolitan, soccer-friendly New York. In 2022, to see the NY Red Bulls host Inter Miami would have set you back $90 at an accredited ticket retailer. When the sides faced off at the Red Bull Arena in August 2023, the price at similar sites was $1,674.
The impact on ticket prices from having a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner in the MLS is unmistakable, although it may not result in a huge income bump for Inter themselves, whose pricing structure must remain within certain structures. Fortunately for the club, it’s not just at the box office that he is driving up revenues. The Messi effect can also be seen in merchandising. According to reports in August, shortly after his arrival at the club, shirts with his name on the back (and the iconic number 10) were so popular that delivery times of over two months were being reported.
That’s not to mention the deals that have been struck by Messi’s own representatives around his arrival in the MLS. Apple TV season passes for the MLS doubled when the player’s deal was announced, which will have worked out nicely for Leo given that he inked a revenue-sharing agreement with the broadcasters when he joined Inter. Alongside an equity stake in the club and a separate contract with Adidas, there is no doubt that the decision to move from France to the US has been a personally enriching one for the world’s most famous False Nine.
Given his undeniable impact on the game and his unrivalled collection of medals, Leo Messi represents a potent force that will achieve changes wherever he goes. By committing his next couple of years to MLS involvement with Inter Miami, it’s no exaggeration to say that he could single-handedly lift the entire league up a level. Because Messi is there, players of greater reputation will be open to the possibility of playing in the US. That in turn will drive higher revenues, and keep players in the league who would previously have moved to Europe.
The upshot of his seemingly unlikely move to one of the less successful teams in the league is that Messi may drive an improvement at Inter Miami (signs are that he already has), but, in addition, provide a financial shot in the arm that will benefit the other 28 teams playing in the MLS right now. And when you take that into account, his contracts represent pretty decent value.
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